Most law professors, at one time or another, have asked a student to state "the rule of law." The student then does so, sometimes in a manner that is overbroad. Take the beloved UCC Article 9, for example. The baseline rule for resolving priority disputes between two perfected secured creditors is found in 9-322(a): the first to file or perfect (whichever is earlier) will win the dispute. But as SecTrans students quickly learn, that baseline rule is subject to a myriad of exceptions, signaled with the dreaded clause "Except as otherwise provided ...." (a phrase which appears more than 100 times in Article 9).
The related matter of shaping and honing legal positions in document drafting also comes up here and there in law school. For example, a secured lender may include in the initial draft of the security agreement a provision that tells the debtor "no other debt, no other liens, and no collateral dispositions," leaving it to the debtor (or its counsel) to insist on carveouts necessary for the debtor to conduct its operations.
I've been reminded of this back-and-forth interplay between parties (the law professor and the student, or the secured party and the debtor) as my daughters have watched (over and over and over and ...) one of the DVDs they received for Christmas: Despicable Me. In this delightful animated film, the lead character (Gru) adopts three little girls (Margo, Agnes, and Edith) to assist him in stealing a "shrink ray" gun from a competing villian. Gru is not used to having three little girls in his house, and he quickly sets about to establish some boundaries. Here's the dialogue:
- Gru: Clearly, we need to set some ground rules. Rule number one: you will not touch anything.
- Margo: Uh-huh. What about the floor?
- Gru: Yes, you may touch the floor.
- Margo: What about the air?
- Gru: Yes, you may touch the air.
- Edith: (holding one of Gru's weapons) What about this? (Gru looks at it, lets out a startled cry, and holds up a pan for protection)
- Gru: Where did you get that?
- Edith: Found it. (Gru takes the weapon)
- Gru: Okay. Rule number two: you will not bother me while I'm working. Rule number three: you will not cry or whine or laugh or giggle or sneeze or burp or fart. So no-no-no annoying sounds.
- Agnes: Does this count as annoying? (she lets go of Margo's hand and puckles her cheeks; Gru grabs her hands, looking very angry)
- Gru: Very. (sighs irritably)
It really is quite charming. But it also is a wonderful illustration of what can happen if a person states an overly broad position -- a concern that can arise in the law school classroom, as well as during document negotiations. For that reason, perhaps this snippet from the film merits consideration for inclusion in any "law and film" course.